Gloomhaven Solo Play

Living North of Wall I do not get a lot of opportunities to sit at the gaming table with my friends as much as I’d like. So outside of PC games and playing RPGs on Roll20 with my pals, i try to find table top board games that have a single player rules variants or can be played easily running multiple players.

A few games that I’ve picked up that have those options are things like Scythe,  Dresden Files co-op card game, Pandemic, The Captain is Dead, Terraforming Mars, Agricola, and more. And finally Gloomhaven. One of the biggest sellers for me on Gloomhaven was that it had a single player variant that Tom Vasel @ Dice Tower even states is just as good if not better then the multiplayer normal game.

Normally I prefer playing board games as a social outlet. I’m a bit of a social butterfly and really enjoy sitting around a table with a group of friends. I’m still a bit hesitant on playing with rando’s due to some bad experiences playing at a local game group, so i shy away from game clubs and cons and gaming at stores. Part of it is probably also because I’m generally bad at games. Board, Video, card, sports etc. I’m just bad at them. I’m not skilled at playing games, I generally just enjoy playing them. Sometimes I get lucky and win, sometimes i just know the rules better, or have played a game more then some other people so I can eek out a win, but if I’m playing against someone who is of comparable experience to me in a game imma lose. I’m usually ok with that. As long as I’m having fun, getting the chance to take my turn regularly and doing stuff I’m ok with losing a game.

Some people may say I’m lying.. but between you and me we’ll just leave it at that.

But back to gaming with people I don’t know. It’s probably silly and I’d probably have a great time, but it just doesn’t feel right. I have my 3 or so group of friends i game with from time to time, and it feels weird playing with people outside of them! I guess you could call me a monogamist gamer?

Many of the games I’ve listed above handle Solo play in different methods. Some of them have you reduce the difficulty in a few ways to make a single player play through possible. I’ve seen games where you might remove some cards, or play a specific board for solo play. There there are some that have you just play the game the same way as with multiple people but playing the different seats or players on your own.

For Gloomhaven the single player rules outline a few specific changes for solo play, that really just line up with increasing the scenario difficulty. In the multiplayer game everyone has a deck of cards that detail the moves or powers that the PCs can perform on their turn. Part of the challenge in many multiple player games is not knowing what each player will specifically do on their turn. This is down by not showing the cards in your hand with the other players. This adds in a bit of difficulty, and as I mentioned in another post, prevents Alpha Gamers from taking control of the game directing everyone’s turns/actions. Games with this specific mechanic are Pandemic, Dresden Files Co-Op and Gloomhaven just to name a few. Being able to see all the cards for the other players or PCs in the game makes it a bit easier as you can coordinate effects and actions with ease. With this in mind Gloomhaven has you increase the game difficulty one level for single player to balance out the difficulty a bit.

I’ve played the first 3 adventures in the Gloomhaven campaign solo with some mixed results. I actually played the first adventure 3 times so i could see the difference in difficulties. My first attempt was with 3 characters at the normal difficulty level. I quit about half way through the first adventure on that one as i found running 3 characters a bit daunting and confusing. Granted this was probably my 5th time playing ever, so with a bit more experience it might be a little easier in the future.

My second attempt at playing Gloomhaven solo was with 2 characters. I made a mistake here and setup the first adventure as If i was playing with 4 players and with a level increase of +1 (for a total of Difficulty Level 5). I realized my mistake about halfway through but wanted to see how it played out. I died in 4 turns from the 2 elite Guards in the first room. Oops.

So my Third attempt I had 2 characters and played on level 3. This was a good balance, if maybe still a smidge too easy. But i played through that and the next two sessions without a huge problem. Was a lot of fun and I cant wait to play again.

I also spent some time last weekend organizing the pieces into a better organization system. I followed the directions here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1726878/yss-yet-another-storage-solution. It uses a few inexpensive Plano tackle boxes to organize all the small pieces, the monster standees, and the cards. Really makes it all alot easier to sort! I’ll get some pictures up in the artcile when I have a some time. I have to say I’ve been happy with the layout. I do miss the box container that it comes with as i really liked how it handled all the boxes and cards, but this system makes setup and breakdown a ton easier and less daunting to each play. Part of why i didn’t play the game more in the past was how intimidating getting everything out was before. I’m hoping it’ll be less of a chore in the future!

So thats the end of my post. Have you tried Gloomhaven single player? Let me know how it went!

 

 

 

The Alpha Gamer (or How I learned to love Pandemic)

The Games:

An Interesting conversation came up in the BurningDanCon chat this evening (more to come on what BurningDanCon is later).

We were all cooing over H and N’s son O competing with his father over their Rule Lawyering of a specifc rule in Pandemic, (Specifically Outbreak expansion of one color/virus into a city with 3 cubes of another color/virus),

Rules Lawyer Senior and Rules Lawyer Junior
Rules Lawyer Senior and Rules Lawyer Junior

when I remembered an article i was reading about one of the biggest problems with with co-op games like Pandemic, Arkham Horror, Forbidden Island (which is a big hit with The Little gamer), Forbidden Desert, and to a lesser extent Shadows over Camelot.

The Alpha Gamer.

You should read the article in question here (https://www.kotaku.com.au/2017/02/games-i-will-never-play-again-pandemic/) for a nice reason on why these games can be problematic.

In short the problem comes with more experienced, assertive, and/or knowledgeable players who have (or think they have) a good strategy in mind for the game being played that they want to direct or quarterback the other plays to.

Usually it can be great in certain instances for one player to help coordinate the team (or players) to come together and form a cohesive strategy to defeat the game. This makes sense! How else can you win if your not all working to achieve one goal and solve the problems?!

The problem comes when it feels like the one player is directing everyone else’s plays at the table and there is not an equal level of participation around the table. I’ve certainly been in that position before (honestly only once i can remember, we’re all pretty Alpha at times), not wholly the fault of the other player (Hello Whiskey), but it can be incredibly frustrating when you are and it feels like you are just an extension of another player turn.

I just want to move my piece!

There is another possibility here to consider. Maybe the Alpha Gamer is just stepping up and into the role due to my love of whiskey and/or my shitty style of game play… I’ll admit I’m not a ponderer when we’re playing games and can get irritated if I’m waiting too long for my turn (5 + 6 player Lords of Waterdeep just kills me when it comes to downtime). I prefer to take my turn, make my move, with a little bit of consideration for sure, but certainly don’t want to hold up the game. I personally think this is an obvious positive character trait, but everyone else calls me an Agent of Chaos for reason and I’ve been blamed for our teams failures once or twice due to my lack of optimal usage of my characters special abilities. (See there’s a reason this blog is titled as it is.)

Reading a few other articles on this, it seems one of the ways that game designers have been trying to combat the “Alpha Gamer” is through the use of hidden mechanics, like the traitor in Shadows over Camelot, the hidden cylon in BSG, and the unique style of hand display in Hanabi. (I haven’t played either of the last two games there, but THATS WHAT THEY SAY!)

That being said, i do really enjoy Pandemic. While we’ve only won a few games of it around our table, we’ve always had a great time playing it.

We’ve also played a few “Months” of Pandemic Legacy Season 1, and have failed every single time. N just recently got Pandemic for his BDay so lets hope he’s practicing and getting some good strategies for our next go round.

Another variant of Pandemic that we have in the library is Pandemic: Reign of Cthuhu.

Me and my gaming Bro Dogs were originally brought together by work. Actually besides work we were originally brought together by playing the table top RPG Call of Cthuhu. So this alternatively themed version of Pandemic was a big hit with our gaming group. It also helped that we won on our first play through.

I also recently picked up a copy of The Captain is Dead, another Co-Op game in the same style and with many of the same mechanics as Pandemic. Thematically The Captain is Dead hits more buttons for me then Pandemic or even Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu. I’m more of a Sci-Fi guy, and a huge star trek fan. This game is basically an episode of the late 60s TV show, but with the captain dying instead. It even includes a “Red Shirt” character that is easy to kill but respawns (as another “Red Shirt”) on the next turn!

The Captain is Dead includes a count down deck, which tends to make bad things happen, and good team combos to boost and encourage assisting fellow players. I was drawn to it initially more for the nifty artwork. See below I think the box art is great not to mention the board and character models.

The Captain is Dead

It really brings out a  60s/70s era vibe, (which makes me think of an old video game with similar art style, Evil Genius.

Before i derail this post too much further, I’d like to just come back to the issue of the Alpha Gamer again before closing up. In reviews I’ve read of The Captain is Dead they mention the Alpha Gamer problem as well, so I’m curious to see how it plays out. One nice thing about the Alpha Gamer conundrum is that it allows games like this to be easily played solo, something that works well for me being out in Western Maryland and with 2 kids. Just play as 2 or 3 different characters and use the normal 3 player rules. Keeping track of the different hands is as easy as laying them down in rows so you don’t get confused. This is a strategy i picked up playing the Dresden Files Cooperative Card game from Evil Hat which i really enjoy.

For Pandemic in particular i think playing the rules as written with not exposing your hand really helps to mitigate the potential of someone becoming the Alpha Player. Yes you can talk about what cards you have but through that communication the possibility of cooperation and shared ideas really starts to shine through. I think most play throughs where I’ve run into this problem we’ve always played with our hands exposed, allowing someone to step in and really take over a game like they would if they were just running 3 or 4 characters at the same time.

For those of you out there how do you deal with Alpha Players? Are there some games you find are more susceptible to this phenomenon? Do you specifically avoid games to combat this? Let me know! Drop me an email or comment below!

The Beer:

Finally as part of my theme for my new blog my drink pairing for Pandemic.
A nice thing about an Alpha Gamer is he takes away all responsibility on you to contribute if you don’t want to! He’s kind of like your Designated Driver when you’re playing. So If that’s the route you are going, hit the hard stuff. Some whiskey, some run, maybe some shots of tequila. All are good ideas. From a beer perspective break out a double IPA and go to town. Living in Maryland I’ll recommend the Double Dog IPA from Flying Dog.

Now for me, I’d probably go with a nice mid range IPA. I’m really enjoying the Sweet Water IPA right now and if your on your first or second you probably have enough cognitive function to contribute. If the game gets out of hand or you got some slow play going on, kick into number three and let the Alpha take over.

If you are the alpha, stick with some diet coke, some bud light, or maybe a nice session beer like an All Day IPA from Founders. Good stuff.